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Gardaí to get access to suspects' phones as part of plan to tackle white-collar crime and corruption

A review had also recommended that the Ethics Acts be strengthened to address instances where breaches come to light after Oireachtas members have left office.

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File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Damien Storan

Updated Dec 3rd 2020, 2:48 PM

AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA and other investigating agencies are to be given greater powers to tackle economic crime and corruption.

The measures are part of a new cross-government plan to tackle so-called ‘white-collar crime’ that will be spearheaded by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who has received Cabinet approval to move forward with the proposals.

The plan will be implemented on foot of the publication of a review into tackling economic crime.

The review recommends the introduction of standalone search warrants that will allow gardaí to require people subject to arrest warrants to provide the passwords to electronic devices owned or controlled by them.

It also recommends that the Ethics Acts be strengthened and reformed to address instances where breaches of ethical obligations come to light after Oireachtas members have left office, among other measures.

The review was led by James Hamilton, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.

In November 2017, the government published a suite of regulatory, corporate governance and law enforcement measures – known as the ‘white-collar crime package’. This included a commitment to “review and strengthen anti-corruption and anti-fraud structures in criminal justice enforcement”.

Hamilton was appointed at the time to act as the independent chair of a multi-agency review group which comprised members from government departments and key State agencies, as well as a small number of experts from outside the public service.

The group met on a number of occasions and held extensive discussions including a public consultation.

The group’s recommendations include the following:

  • Amend criminal justice legislation to allow for standalone search warrants that will allow An Garda Síochána to require people subject to arrest warrants to provide the passwords to electronic devices owned or controlled by them
  • The establishment of an Advisory Council against Economic Crime and Corruption to make proposals to government on strategies and policies to tackle economic crime and corruption
  • A permanent forum of senior representatives from State agencies to facilitate greater collaboration and information sharing
  • Greater resourcing for the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Garda National and Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB)
  • Continuous training for investigators of economic crime and corruption
  • Engagement with the judiciary on the development of training for economic crime/corruption cases and the potential for judicial specialisation in the area
  • Consideration to be given to strengthen criminal law in the area of public sector ethics, including creating new offences such as nepotism
  • Amend legislation to address situations where former members of Oireachtas may have contravened their obligations under the Ethics Acts and the matter only comes to light after the member has left office
  • Provide for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) in their investigations to obtain evidence using covert means, in line with An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners

‘Threat to our reputation’

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the plan will identify priorities that can be implemented in the shorter term, such as the enactment of the Criminal Procedure Bill, which is on the current legislative programme for enactment.

The main purpose of this legislation is to “provide greater efficiency and fairness in the trial process” and to reduce delays in the criminal justice system generally.

Speaking about the plan, Minister McEntee said: “Corruption and ‘white-collar crime’ damages our economy, breeds cynicism in our society and is a threat to our international reputation.”

McEntee said implementing the recommendations from the Hamilton Review will require collaboration across government, with Cabinet colleagues and with State agencies.

She said the work will be complemented by other anti-corruption initiatives such as the forthcoming report of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate on Countering the Threat of Internal Corruption.

“The State and its agencies must have all the powers available to clamp down and prevent white-collar crime.”

McEntee added that Ireland “has a hard-won reputation as an attractive destination for foreign direct investment and as an international business hub”, and stepping up efforts to tackle white-collar crime will help maintain that reputation.

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“Businesses large and small must be confident that they can operate safely and securely, particularly as more and more economic activity goes online, a trend we have seen accelerate with Covid.

“But it is not just about businesses – consumers too should know they can safely pay their bills, shop and do so much more online.

“Perpetrators of such crimes can be sure we will spare no effort in preventing them committing such offences – and will bring them to justice if they do.”

Fragmentation of public authorities

Social Democrats co-leader and justice spokesperson, Catherine Murphy, has welcomed the publication of the report.

“The underfunding and fragmentation of the various public authorities tasked with tackling white collar crime has impinged on their ability to pursue allegations of corruption and crime with real effectiveness,” Murphy said.

The Social Democrats have called for the establishment of stand-alone, fully independent entity called the Anti-Corruption Agency, as well as “the correct allocation of resources” within the DPP’s office and other authorities.

“It is all very well to ring-fence resources, but you must bolster agencies such as Sipo in advance as they will be starting from a very low base.

“Some of the measures called for in the report can be introduced immediately, for example, changes to ethics in public office legislation to deal with former members of the Oireachtas.

“Proper enforcement and consequences for those that commit crime or indulge in corruption will change the behaviour of others,” Murphy said.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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